Sola Scriptura, Cyril of Jerusalem, Logic, & Anti-Catholics

Sola Scriptura, Cyril of Jerusalem, Logic, & Anti-Catholics November 9, 2017


This comes from a vigorous combox on the great site Shameless Popery, under the post, “Reformation Day Ironies, 500th Anniversary Edition” (by Joe Heschmeyer). Anti-Catholic Barry Baritone’s words will be in blue. Words of “Irked” will be in green.

I had written two papers about this general topic before. The first was raised by someone in the discussion; I cited the second:

Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [8-1-03]

David T. King & William Webster Misinterpret the Fathers on Authority: Part I: St. Cyril of Jerusalem [11-9-13]


St. Cyril wrote:

For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures. (Catechetical Lectures 4:17)

That’s… pretty darn close to what Luther would eventually say.

You are absolutely correct. There could be no clearer statement of the principle of S.S. than what we read in Cyril. He says that all he teaches must be verified by S and nothing is to be accepted without it. He does not say one word about an oral tradition independent of Scripture, much to the dismay of the RC community. Catholics are desperate to minimize the impact of Cyril, so they seek to get around it by way of Dave Armstrong quoting Patrick Madrid as saying, “Hey, Cyril believed in the Mass, etc…and so Sola Scripture fails”

WHO CARES if Mr. C believed in the Mass! S.S. most certainly does NOT fail by Mr. C’s example because he was attempting to derive his doctrine from Scripture, PERIOD.


I could give you a whole list of names and their quotes which they extol Holy Writ above all else. But I would like to know that if I did that, will you admit you were wrong? Experience has shown that when Catholics find out they’ve been duped, they NEVER admit they were wrong, and usually get on their high horse and disappear into the sunset. So I ask you: do you have any intention whatsoever to change your mode of thinking when you find out your master, Dave Armstrong, is so full of baloney he could open up a delicatessen? If your answer is no, then why should anyone waste their time answering you?

At the end of the day, you can find the principle of S.S. very clearly laid out in all 176 verses of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible.

Baritone brought up Psalm 119 as an alleged prooftext of sola Scriptura. I dealt with a portion of that in my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against  Sola Scriptura:

88. Psalms 119:159-160: “Thy Word is Truth”

Consider how I love thy precepts! Preserve my life according to thy steadfast love. The sum of thy word is truth; and every one of thy righteous ordinances endures forever.”

Again, we see an exercise common in such alleged “evidence”: assuming what one is trying to prove, sometimes called circular reasoning or “begging the question.” This passage simply doesn’t rule out other authorities. No Christian would argue against what the text says: God’s word is truth. Of course it is! But this is no proof of the Protestant novelty that is sola scriptura. The notion supposedly being supported isn’t even present in the text. It is merely read into it, or super-imposed onto it. Protestants think sola scriptura is “obvious” and “unquestionable” in the way that a fish in an aquarium thinks it is “obvious” that the entire world consists of water and that all creatures live in it.

If sola scriptura is all one knows or hears about, then of course one will come away with that viewpoint. But remove the Protestant’s set of presumptions (which must be argued for, not used as evidence), and the plain meaning of this passage does nothing to support sola scriptura. (pp. 118-119)

Getting back to the man and the S.S. principle, his was not that we should be conformed to what the CHURCH says, but rather, conformity to Scripture was the pancake batter that oozed into THAT man’s frying pan.

“Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.”

Catholics can knock their heads up against the wailing wall as much as they like in trying to deny it, but there is simply no way to subsume Cyril’s understanding of the authority of Scripture into the Roman Catholic paradigm! NO WAY. . . .

Let me put this in big letters: EVERY DOCTRINE MR. C PROCLAIMED, HE DECLARED TO BE BASED ON PROOF FURNISHED FROM HOLY WRIT. We certainly don’t agree with everything he said, but so what? No one has a monopoly on truth and nowhere are promised to know it all. Nonetheless, the underlying presupposition of S.S. is right there before your eyes, crystal clear, like it or not. And like it or not, Mr. C does NOT agree with the authority structure and underlying presuppositions of the RCC! 

A given Church father’s views has to be determined by his entire body of teaching, not isolated prooftexts. Cyril clearly held to a very strong version of material sufficiency (Catholics also accept material sufficiency of Scripture, but deny formal sufficiency; i.e., sola Scriptura), but he did not hold to sola Scriptura. How do we know that? We know by the passages from his writings that I have already produced: that have been mostly ignored or rationalized away.

In my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura, I cited the most zealous Protestant defenders of sola Scriptura in my Introduction, in order to define it as these defenders do. Norman Geisler stated that “the Bible alone is the infallible written authority for faith and morals” and “the sufficient and final written authority of God.” He explains that “the Fathers and early councils . . . Christian tradition” have their “usefulness” but that they are “of secondary importance.”

Keith A. Mathison teaches that only Scripture is “inherently infallible” and “the supreme normative standard” and the “final standard” and “only final authoritative norm.” Any other “authorities” are “subordinate and derivative in nature.”

I cite James White for almost a page. He contends for the same notions. Scripture contains “all God intends for us to have that is infallible, binding, and authoritative.” Neither Church nor tradition possess this authority. Hence, any tradition “must be tested by a higher authority, and that authority is the Bible.” So White concludes that “the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regulafidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church.”

That is the definition of sola Scriptura, and it precludes by inescapable logic, these propositions:

1) The Church is infallible and has binding authority.

2) Sacred / apostolic tradition / apostolic succession are infallible and has binding authority.

Therefore, if a Church father asserts #1 or #2 he does not teach sola Scriptura. It’s as simple as that. I’ve already proven this in my two papers about St. Cyril, but I will offer more here. In Catechetical Lecture 18:23, Cyril informs us that the Catholic Church has a sublime (infallible) teaching authority: “it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly.” He also wrote about this Church in 18:25:

the Saviour built out of the Gentiles a second Holy Church, the Church of us Christians, concerning which he said to Peter, ‘And upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ [Matthew 16:18] . . . Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, ‘That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’ [1 Timothy 3:15].

I wrote a post in which I gave three biblical arguments for an infallible, authoritative Church. Two of them are above (and I hadn’t read the above before I wrote my post). The third is the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

In 18:26 he decries “the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest,” and provides the solution to falling into their errors: “for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the Article, And in one Holy Catholic Church; that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated.” He makes the Church necessary for salvation in 18:28: “In this Holy Catholic Church receiving instruction and behaving ourselves virtuously, we shall attain the kingdom of heaven, and inherit eternal life; for which also we endure all toils, that we may be made partakers thereof from the Lord.” He refers to sacred tradition and apostolic succession in 18:32 (“the Holy and Apostolic Faith delivered to you to profess”).

He also mentions the centrality of Scriptures in determining doctrine (e.g., 18:30, 18:33), but not in a way that precludes or excludes Church and tradition. This is what is not understood by those who claim that Cyril is teaching sola Scriptura. He does not. He teaches precisely what Catholics believe today, as the rule of faith: the “three-legged stool” of “Bible-Church-Tradition.”

The sola Scriptura advocate could never say the things that Cyril said above about both Church and tradition, because he denies that they are infallible, and that they are a final authority alongside Scripture. Thus, Luther at the Diet of Worms specifically places Scripture higher than the Church and tradition by saying, “councils and can and do err. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, here I stand, I can do not other, etc.” He couldn’t and didn’t argue like Cyril does above because that is the Catholic Mind and Rule of Faith, which he was rejecting, by introducing the unscriptural novelty of sola Scriptura.

Cyril talks about the inspired authority of Scripture, as he should, and as we do, but he places it within the authoritative interpretation of Holy Mother Church. Hence, he wrote:

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. . . . So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. . . . Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. (Catechetical Lectures 5:12-13)

He refers to “the tradition of the Church’s interpreters” (Catechetical Lectures 15:13)

When Cyril refers to “proof” and “demonstration” from the Scriptures in 4:17, it depends what he means. If he means by that, “all doctrines to be believed are harmonious with Scripture, and must not contradict it,” this is simply material sufficiency and exactly what Catholics believe. If he means, “all doctrines to be believed must be explicitly explained and taught by Scripture and not derived primarily or in a binding fashion from the Church or tradition” then he would be espousing sola Scriptura.

But it’s not at all established that this is what he meant. It is established, on the other hand, that he accepted the binding authority of Church, tradition, and apostolic succession (“that apostolic and evangelic faith, which our fathers ever preserved and handed down to us as a pearl of great price”: To Celestine, Epistle 9).

The notion that all doctrines must be explicit in Scripture in order to be believed (and only binding if so), is simply not taught in the Bible; i.e., sola Scriptura is not taught in the Bible. An authoritative, binding Church and tradition certainly are taught in Scripture, and those two things expressly contradict sola Scriptura.

Conclusion: neither the Bible nor St. Cyril of Jerusalem teach sola Scriptura.

The only way anyone could read and understand what I just wrote above and still claim that St. Cyril of Jerusalem believed in sola Scriptura would be to:

1) not understand the definition of sola Scriptura, as explained by credentialed, informed Protestant apologists and theologians,


2) insufficiently understand classical logic; i.e., how Cyril’s statements elsewhere logically prove that he can’t possibly have held to sola Scriptura, as defined by its most vocal and able Protestant defenders: folks like Geisler, Mathison, and White.

An advocate of sola Scriptura cannot possibly state, “x is true because the Church teaches it” or “x is true because sacred tradition passed down, teaches it”. They cannot because those sentences presuppose an authoritative, binding Church or tradition (which sola Scriptura expressly denies). The advocate of sola Scriptura has to say, rather, “x is true because the Bible teaches it” or “x is true because the Bible — corroborated also by non-binding Church and/or traditional teaching — teaches it”. The Church or tradition can never be central in providing the basis for a belief, in a sola Scriptura understanding. They can be secondary and optional, but never primary, sole, or binding.

This is why, again, there is no way in any conceivable universe, that St. Cyril held to sola Scriptura. And I have found this to be the case with any and every Church father, insofar as I have studied them or looked over supposed prooftexts from them, produced by anti-Catholic apologists and historical revisionists like Jason Engwer, David T. King, William Webster, or James White, or Martin Chemnitz or William Whitaker  (see the “Bible / Tradition / Church . . . section of my Church Fathers web page). It fails every time, and it is almost always the same logical fallacy and tunnel vision involved.


As we have been saying, a given Church father’s views have to be determined by his entire body of teaching, not isolated prooftexts.

That is true to a POINT, but not to the exclusion of the similar truth that isolated texts may very WELL, and often do, stand on their own (e.g., being told, “thou shalt not steal” is clear enough). The fact that Cyril said not even to believe HIM, but to check things out with Holy Writ, WE SAY, can stand on its own. I have read your quotes which supposedly prove the contrary and I am not convinced.

Now to everything else in you said in your post here, there is a reply that can stand head and shoulders over your assertions. I had to decide if it was worthwhile to go through all your dicta in light of the fact that your foundation is cracked at the get-go. I decided it was NOT worth the time, because if your foundation is cracked, then it follows that everything else you submit has splinters also. Here’s your crack… [he then proceeds to do an off-topic analysis of the material vs. formal sufficiency of Scripture issue, including charges that I am “dishonest” regarding Catholic teaching in this respect]

Yeah, I check everything with Scripture, too (as does the Catholic Church). It’s my specialty: my website is called “Biblical Evidence for Catholicism”. So what? That determines nothing one way or another with regard to sola Scriptura. The sooner you figure that out, the better for the logic of your analyses. I think you understand the definition of sola Scriptura (but maybe not); so you must not understand the logic of the various propositions being discussed and how they relate to each other.

I had to decide if it was worthwhile to go through all your dicta in light of the fact that your foundation is cracked at the get-go. I decided it was NOT worth the time, . . .

Yes, of course! This is what folks always do when faced with matters of verifiable historical fact that don’t go along with their preconceived notions, for which they want to special plead: play logical games, rationalize why the relevant data ought not be reckoned with and refuted (if indeed that is able to be done).

You have written enough words in this combox to make War and Peace look like a comic strip on a bubble gum wrapper, yet you can’t bring yourself to refute a few passages from St. Cyril that demolish your pretentious claims about him.

It’s classic anti-Catholicism. I’ve encountered it again and again in the current crop of anti-Catholic polemicists (White, Webster, Engwer, King, Ken Temple, Turretinfan, James Swan, Eric Svendsen, Steve Hays) and in the historic ones as well (Whitaker, Goode, Chemnitz, Luther, Calvin).

However you try to distract unsuspecting readers, the fact remains, and has been demonstrated, that St. Cyril of Jerusalem could not possibly have believed in sola Scriptura, as defined by the most able Protestant defenders of the past (Whitaker and Goode: against whom I wrote an entire book) or present (Geisler, Mathison, White).

I’m not gonna play your sophistical games and ring-around-the-rosey. You may think that impresses people. I don’t think it’s impressive at all. It’s merely a subterfuge and sophistry to avoid the point at hand (and the only one I am addressing):

+++++ Did St. Cyril of Jerusalem espouse sola Scriptura? +++++

He did not, and I proved that. You obviously haven’t disproven my contentions because by your own words you have chosen not to engage them at all. You make a bald denial (“I am not convinced”), which is, of course, no rational argument. Then you “decided it was NOT worth the time” to address my actual arguments (which are simply citations of Cyril and drawing the rather obvious conclusions from them), and that you would be “dismissing the rest of [my] post.”

Having done that, you attempt to move the discussion to the finer points of material and formal sufficiency. Nice try, but that’s not the topic at hand, and you fool no one by cynically switching horses in mid-stream.

Again, I don’t play those games, and I’m interested in true dialogue and debate and arriving at the fullness of truth and the historical facts (the present discussion being of the nature of historical determination of what a certain person believed in theology), as can best be ascertained.

If your case is indeed so superior, you would dismantle my claims and prove them wrong. It would and should be easy. But since you can’t do that, you chose sophistry, obfuscation, obscurantism, and evasion instead.

At least you give some sort of reply (though it’s pitiful). Webster and King never do so. I refuted Webster at length twice, regarding development of doctrine and tradition (in 2000 and 2003), informed him of it, and never heard a word back. He is massively ignorant of both things.

David T. King claimed (loudly and condescendingly, on Eric Svendsen’s old discussion forum) that Cardinal Newman was a modernist, and that Pope St. Pius X thought so, too. He mocked people who started disagreeing with him. I proved  from a personal letter of that pope that this was the exact opposite of the truth. That was in March 2002. King then shut up and has never attempted to interact with an argument of mine ever since (now 15 1/2 years, with no end in sight): though he has called me lots and lots of names. And I have refuted contentions of his several times since (examples: one / two / three / four / five). He never replies. He’s simply (along with Webster) a [solely] self-published blowhard.

So you keep up the same pattern, with which I am quite (and sadly) familiar. It’s pathetic. I don’t know how you can look yourself (“intellectually”) in the mirror.


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